He was the last medieval monarch of England; the much-maligned king depicted by Shakespeare as a devious, hunchbacked murderer and the last ruler to die in battle on English soil. This week, however, he’s Leicester’s biggest attraction, drawing crowds of thousands to see his bones and attend his reburial.
Here at CityBlock, we watched the queues grow and grow as people waited for up to four hours to view his coffin as it stood on display at Leicester Cathedral.
That’s quite a show for somebody who died 530 years ago! So, who was Richard III anyway?
Step back in time to the mid-fifteenth century. Henry VI is on the throne (not the one with the wives) and he’s thought to be a bit bonkers. In 1453, he basically stops doing anything for a year – not even acknowledging the birth of his son. That’s not what you want from a ruler, so Richard of York (he who gave battle in vain) decides that he can king better than Henry. He leads an army into battle at St Albans, of all places, in 1455, kicking off a war between the House of York and the House of Lancaster that would last the next thirty years.
Henry VI gets captured a couple of times, Richard of York gets named Protector of England, his son Edward becomes King Edward IV, but is then exiled and Henry gets put back on the throne – for all of six months. Edward comes back, Henry is murdered in the Tower of London, and it all looks ready to settle down again.
Unfortunately, Edward then dies unexpectedly. His brother Richard, not wanting his sister-in-law involved in the government, steps in to become – yes, you got it, Richard III. He locks Edward’s two sons up in the Tower of London, and they’re never seen again. Did Richard kill them? To be honest, nobody knows.
In steps Henry of Tudor, a relative of the Lancasters, supplied with troops by the French. He leads his army to the Battle of Bosworth Field on the 22nd August 1485, where Richard III is decisively defeated – and killed, bringing the War of the Roses to an end.
Richard was buried without pomp, and his grave was lost until it was rediscovered just three years ago under a car park.
And that brings us to today. Despite campaigns from some quarters to have Richard buried in Yorkshire – he was of the House of York, after all – the decision was made to keep him in Leicester, with a re-interment ceremony fit for a king.
Today’s ceremony will include a poem read by Richard III’s second cousin 16 times removed. Who? Why, Benedict Cumberbatch, of course! According to genealogists, millions of us are probably related to Richard III, but Cumberbatch can claim a bit of a closer link than most. He’ll also be playing him in the upcoming BBC Two drama series The Hollow Crown: War of the Roses. Great for those who want to know more about history and those who just love a bit of Cumberbatch alike!